The Nicest Place in North Dakota: Minot

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Hearts Everywhere"

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It’s still a mystery who started planting wooden hearts all over town.

There’s a mystery in Minot. At the beginning of the pandemic, hearts started sprouting out of the ground. The city of 47,000 in North Dakota is known for its Air Force base, but despite the heavy military presence, nobody could explain where the hearts came from or who started it.

“These wooden hearts began popping up around the city with really encouraging things written on them, like ‘We will get through this,’” says Rianne Kuhn, who nominated Minot to be the Nicest Place in America. “They’re everywhere: stop signs, road signs, at the entrances to parks, and especially at hospitals.” Kuhn says the wooden heart cutouts are even larger at the hospital­—at least two feet across and staked into the ground, and in one of the planter beds there are several smaller ones. “They’ve made a substantial impact around the city, and the thing is, I keep seeing hearts I haven’t seen before.”

The real Minot mystery isn’t how the hearts are multiplying—but who is behind their creation to begin with.

“We still don’t know,” Kuhn says with a chuckle.

Perhaps it’s the “North Dakota nice” that folks in town take very seriously, or the impact of the hearts themselves, but the spirit of positivity has been infectious. Darcy Bjertness is a seamstress who wanted to ensure that anyone that wanted a mask in her state could get one, especially frontline workers. She knows there is strength in numbers, so she did what any serious seamstress would do—she galvanized a mask-making army.

friendly message on a wooden heartCourtesy Rianne Kuhn
A mystery citizen planted positive messages all around the city of Minot.

Bjertness stepped up after she learned about a nationwide network that sews reusable cloth masks for medical facilities and that North Dakota wasn’t part of it. She organized the North Dakota Face Masks Warriors—more than 500 residents who sew masks and who together have donated over 21,000 throughout the state.

“Our goal is to ensure there is enough PPE for those helping our communities. I never expected it to take off as it has, but I am so proud of what the communities across our state have been able to accomplish,” she says.

If you’re familiar with “North Dakota nice,” you know the small things matter. When a front desk associate of the local Hyatt House by the name of Olivia Christmas noticed a guest who works at the local Air Force base and his wife, a nurse, worrying about pandemic, she wrote them a note letting them know she cared and attached a surprise gift basket filled with quarantine essentials: vitamin C, a cell phone charger, a cookie cutter, and lipbalm. When hundreds of students in Minot thought their chances of having their prom were nonexistent, the Minot Downtown Association put on a two-day “Promdemic” event in which 300 students dressed up, posed for a professional photographer, ate, and played games like Family Feud. “It was so fun to see all of them in their beautiful dresses with their dates,” says Kuhn.

“There is a reason we are called the Magic City,” says Kuhn. “Our citizens bring so much spark to the place we are lucky enough to call home. This community supports one another.”

The Nomination

The historic city of Minot, nestled in the northwestern part of North Dakota, is known to many as “The Magic City.” The area is known for its history of American aviation and is host to the largest Scandinavian festival in the United States. The residents of Minot and its surrounding communities are friendly and look after one another, especially in times of crisis.

Acts of kindness can be seen and heard throughout the city. Minot residents rallied together to encourage the community and show solidarity during the pandemic. Recently, a group of locals posted wooden hearts on street corners, next to road signs and in front of the hospital with uplifting words of encouragement. One sign said, “Never lose sight of the good.”

positive messages on heartsCourtesy Rianne Kuhn (2)
Reminders that hope and kindness are still alive and well in Minot.

And, at the Hyatt House, a local hotel, the benevolence continued. General Manager Lorena Starkey and her staff were told by a weekly guest that his job at the Minot Air Force Base had become more complicated in the wake of COVID-19. It was taking him more time than usual to report into work due to increased access checkpoints. To convolute matters more, the guest’s wife, a nurse, was also working long hours and worried about the likely influx of patients to the ICU due to the pandemic increasing those hours even more — and with a toddler at home, they were struggling to find daycare options that fit their schedules. Olivia, a Hyatt House employee, made a care package for the guest and his family, including items they may want during a potential quarantine including an oven mitt with a cookie cutter for making homemade cookies, wet wipes, Emergen-C and Chapstick. She also included a wireless phone charger, coffee mug and pretzels. Starkey said, “We know that we can’t take away the stress or the anxiety this family is going through. However, as a Hyatt Family she wanted him to know that we care, and we recognize him and his wife are in need of support and appreciation.”

Finally, Josh Duhamel — director, actor and Minot native — gave his words of inspiration recently in a new video made in the wake of COVID-19. You can view it here.

These are just a few examples of how the people of Minot are truly the definition of “North Dakota Nice” and can find the magic in every situation.

Our county was the first in the state of North Dakota to see a case of COVID-19. I think we all heard about the virus, as we saw the national media coverage, but until it’s literally in your backyard it doesn’t settle in. Once we realized, it was so close to home, the atmosphere changed. Therefore our community changed. We transitioned our operation to working from home, and the hardest part for us as the Convention & Visitors Bureau was understanding that we could not invite people to our community during this time. That fact changed our goals, and our mission as a destination marketing organization. As we watched things unfold, it’s very difficult to grasp how this will impact our local Minot economy. We will get through this, and we will grow from this. Our local business, entrepreneurs, attractions and of course, our hotels are the places in Minot we are so proud of and because of that, we are willing to do whatever it takes to help them stay open during this uncertain time.

“North Dakota nice” is a fundamental motto you will hear as you travel throughout the state of North Dakota. The people of Minot embody all that is North Dakota nice. They are caring people, willing to help and give back at every opportunity. The outpouring of love and support for our medical staff and first responders here in Minot has been uplifting. Driving throughout the city, not only do we see how resilient we are as a community, but we also see the unwavering support for each other during a very trying time. I always knew Minot was special, but to watch business owners do their part, is exceptional. As a Minot transplant, I am so proud to live here, to be part of this beautiful community where kindness leads.

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